Archive for October 28, 2016


27 October 2016

By Harun Maruf

Pro-Islamic State militants have seized their first big town in the Puntland region of Somalia, officials and residents told VOA.

The militants moved into the Red Sea town of Qandala, 90 miles east of Bosaso, in the early hours of Wednesday without any confrontations.

Officials from the Puntland administration have left the town. The chairman of the town, Jama Mohamed Mumin, confirmed to VOA’s Somali Service that the town was seized by “Daesh.”

A resident in the town told VOA Somali that about 60 militants entered the town and hoisted their flag on top of the police station and another historical building.

“Early in the morning they restricted our movement, now they eased restrictions and we are trying to leave the town,” says the resident, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.

He said local elders met with the militants and told them to leave the town but says the militants insisted ‘they are not going anywhere.”

The pro-Islamic State faction in northeastern Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former al-Shabab cleric who pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a year ago.

Last month, the U.S. State Department designated Mumin as a global terrorist.

A former al-Shabab member estimates that about 200 pro-IS fighters are in the group. A security expert puts the number a bit higher at 300.

Qandala is a strategic port town facing the coastal towns of Yemen. The former Intelligence Director of Puntland Abdi Hassan said earlier that IS has started delivering supplies through their affiliate faction in Yemen.

“They received military supplies from Yemen – weapons, uniform, ISIS sent trainers who inspected their bases, and they have started sending financial support,” he said. “The weapons’ shipment was delivered by sea from Mukallah city in Hadramouth, it has arrived from the Red Sea coast of Somalia in February and March this year.”

Source: allAfrica.

Link: http://allafrica.com/stories/201610270627.html.

October 27, 2016

Daesh fighters kept up on Wednesday their fierce defense of the southern approaches to Mosul, which has held up Iraqi troops there and forced an elite army unit east of the city to put a more rapid advance on hold.

Ten days into what is expected to be the biggest ground offensive in Iraq since the US-led invasion of 2003, army and federal police units aim to dislodge the militants from villages in the region of Shora, 30 km (20 miles) south of Mosul.

The frontlines in other areas have moved much closer to the edges of the city, the last major stronghold under control of the militants in Iraq, who have held it since 2014.

The elite army unit which moved in from the east has paused its advance as it approaches built-up areas, waiting for the other attacking forces to close the gap.

“As Iraqi forces move closer to Mosul, we see that Daesh resistance is getting stronger,” said Major Chris Parker, a coalition spokesman at the Qayyara airbase south of Mosul that serves as a hub for the campaign. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The combat ahead is likely to get more deadly as 1.5 million residents remain in the city and worst-case UN forecasts see up to a million people being uprooted.

A Reuters correspondent on the southern front met villagers and police who said their relatives had been taken as human shields to cover the fighters’ retreat from the area.

The militants have been using suicide car-bombs extensively to fight off the advancing troops, according to Major General Najm al-Jabouri, the commander of the Mosul operations.

He said his soldiers had destroyed at least 95 car bombs since the battle started on Oct. 17.

Outside the village of Saf al-Tuth, Jabouri directed heavy machine-gun fire at a sparse concrete building on a ridge where his men believed a sniper was hunkered down. Volleys of rockets flew over the ridge with a whoosh and pounded the village itself with loud booms.

UN aid agencies said the fighting has so far forced about 10,600 people to flee.

“Assessments have recorded a significant number of female-headed households, raising concerns around the detention or capture of men and boys,” said a news release from the office of the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande.

Grande told Reuters on Tuesday that a mass exodus could happen, maybe within the next few days.

In the worst case scenario, Grande said, it was also possible that Daesh fighters could resort to “rudimentary chemical weapons” to hold back the impending assault.

The fall of Mosul would mark Islamic State’s effective defeat in Iraq. The city, sometimes described as Iraq’s second largest, is many times bigger than any other Islamic State has ever captured, and it was from its Grand Mosque that the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” that also spans parts of Syria.

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday an attack on Raqqa, Daesh’s main stronghold in Syria, would start while the battle of Mosul is still unfolding. It was the first official suggestion that U.S.-backed forces in both countries could soon mount simultaneous operations to crush the self-proclaimed caliphate once and for all.

Shi’ite Militias

A senior US official said about 50,000 Iraqi ground troops are taking part in the offensive, including a core force of 30,000 from the government’s armed forces, 10,000 Kurdish fighters and the remaining 10,000 from police and local volunteers.

Iraqi army units are deployed to the south and east, while Kurdish fighters are attacking from the east and the north of the city where 5,000 to 6,000 jihadists are dug in, according to Iraqi military estimates.

Roughly 5,000 US troops are also in Iraq. More than 100 of them are embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces advising commanders and helping coalition air power in hitting targets. They are not deployed on frontlines.

Every power in the Middle East has claimed a stake in the fight against Islamic State, making the Mosul operation a strange coalition of nations and groups that are otherwise foes.

The attacking forces are set to increase soon if Iranian-trained Shi’ite militias join the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces. The militias’ presence is contentious because of concern that they could alienate mainly Sunni Muslim residents of the area.

The militias, known collectively as Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, said last week they would help the army take back Tal Afar, a mainly ethnic Turkmen city west of Mosul on the road linking Iraq to Syria.

Iraqi defense ministry spokesman Brigadier-General Yahya Rasool told Al-Sumariya television channel on Wednesday that the PMF would open a new front in Mosul in the coming days.

Hadi al-Amiri, head of Badr, the most powerful group within the PMF, appeared to play down the suggestion that the group would soon join an advance in Tal Afar.

“We will not go to Tal Afar now,” he said. He also said the PMF intended to enlist both Sunnis and Shi’ites from Tal Afar to fight against Daesh.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday Turkey would take measures should the Iranian-backed militias attack Tal Afar.

Turkey and Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated central government are at loggerheads over the presence – unauthorized by Baghdad – of Turkish troops at a camp in northern Iraq. Ankara fears that Shi’ite militias, which have been accused of abuses against Sunni civilians elsewhere, will be used in the Mosul offensive.

US President Barack Obama told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call on Wednesday that he welcomed continued talks between Iraq and Turkey to seek agreement on Ankara’s participation in the drive against Islamic State, the White House said.

Both leaders affirmed their support for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the White House said.

Iranian influence

In a sign of Iran’s influence, Kurdish political analyst Ranj Talabany tweeted a picture purportedly showing General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the al-Quds force, the extra-territorial arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, touring the frontline held by the Kurds north of Mosul.

The picture was said to be taken in Bashiqa, the region where Turkey is maintaining troops to train local Sunni forces.

Islamic State fighters have tried to divert combat from the main front near Mosul by launching attacks on other cities.

The Iraqi army said on Wednesday it had regained full control of the western town of Rutba on Wednesday, three days after Islamic State attacked it, in an apparent effort to divert Iraqi government troops from the assault on Mosul.

The militants at one point controlled half of the town on a key route to Syria and Jordan in Anbar province, a hotbed for the largely Sunni insurgency against Shi’ite-led government.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161027-daesh-holds-up-iraqi-army-south-of-mosul/.

Monday 24 October 2016

The Islamic State (IS) group launched an attack and seized the western Iraqi town of Rutba on Monday as the government tries to retake Mosul, according to an Al Jazeera report.

Seeking to divert attention from the Mosul operation, the militants have tried to hit back with attacks in Rutba, as well as the major city of Kirkuk on Sunday.

They seized the mayor’s office in Rutba, as well as captured and executed at least five people – civilians and policemen, army commanders said.

Rutba’s mayor, Imad al-Dulaimi, said the insurgents attacked during the night and gained entry to the town by coordinating with sleeper cells there. About 30 insurgents skirmished with tribal fighters and security forces.

The top US commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, said IS had staged what he called a complex attack in Rutba, which was being dealt with by Iraqi forces. The attack was intended “to try to draw our attention from Mosul”, he said.

The commander of the Anbar operations, Ismail Al-Mahlawi, confirmed that militants executed civilians in Rutba. Arabic media cited him as saying that Iraqi troops were working to recapture the city.

Arabic media also cited a statement by Anbar council chief Sabah Karhoot, who urged Baghdad to send reinforcements to repel the IS offensive.

Around 20,000 people live in Rutba, whcih was previously taken by IS, but recaptured by government forces in May.

In an attempt to repel the offensive against Mosul, Islamic State also set fire to a sulfur plant near the city. Up to 1,000 people were treated in hospital after inhaling toxic fumes.

On Friday, IS sleeper cells in Kirkuk joined up with gunmen infiltrating the northern city in a brazen raid that saw several government buildings attacked.

The attack sparked clashes that lasted three days as security forces imposed a curfew to hunt down attackers holed up across the city.

The provincial governor, Najmeddin Karim, told AFP on Monday that the attack was over and life was returning to normal.

He said more than 74 IS militants were killed in the violence, which also left at least 46 other people dead, mostly members of the security forces.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/islamic-state-takes-iraqi-town-rutba-1275953097.

October 22, 2016

KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) — A massive Islamic State assault on targets in and around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk came to an end Saturday after a day and night of heavy clashes, as Iraqi forces launched a new advance southeast of the IS-held city of Mosul.

Brig. Gen. Khattab Omer of the Kirkuk police said all the attackers were killed or blew themselves up. The area around the provincial headquarters, where the fighting was heaviest, was quiet Saturday morning.

It was not clear how many militants took part in the assault, which appeared to be aimed at diverting attention from Mosul, around 170 kilometers (100 miles) away, where Iraqi forces are waging a major offensive.

The militants killed 13 workers, including four Iranians, at a power plant north of Kirkuk, and a local TV reporter was killed by a sniper in the city. It was not clear if there were other casualties among civilians or the Kurdish security forces who control Kirkuk.

The Iraqi army’s 9th Division meanwhile launched a new push to retake the town of Hamdaniyah, around 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the southeast of Mosul. The Joint Military Operation Command said troops were advancing on the town, also known as Bakhdida and Qaraqosh.

Two army officers told The Associated Press that forces were advancing on the town from the north and south, with the support of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

The operation is part of an offensive launched Monday aimed at liberating Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which fell to IS in 2014. It is the largest operation undertaken by Iraqi forces since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Hamdaniyah is believed to be largely uninhabited. IS has heavily mined the approaches to Mosul, and Iraqi forces have had to contend with roadside bombs, snipers and suicide truck bombs as they have moved closer to the city.

Iraqi forces retook the town of Bartella, around 15 kilometers (nine miles) east of Mosul, earlier this week, but are still facing pockets of resistance in the area.

Abdul-Zahra reported from Bartella. Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss contributed to this report from Baghdad.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Forces allied to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria warned Turkey on Wednesday against any advance towards their positions to the north and east of Aleppo, as Turkish officials accused the Syrian government of carrying out a strike on its allies.

It was the first time a direct clash between Syrian forces and the Turkish-backed rebels has been announced. Two rebels were killed and five wounded, the Turkish army said.

The Turkish military said a helicopter “assessed to belong to regime forces” bombed the rebels in a village near Akhtarin, a town 5km southeast of Dabiq, late on Tuesday.

Dabiq is a former Islamic State stronghold which the rebels seized from the militants this month.

“This kind of attack will not stop our fight against Daesh (Islamic State),” said Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu. “This operation will continue until al-Bab. The operation needs to continue, and it will.”

The reported attack came as pro-Assad forces warned that any attempt by Turkish-backed forces to would be seen as a breach of “the red lines”.

The field commander of the forces allied to Damascus – who was not identified by name, nationality or affiliation – made the comments during a tour of frontlines to the north of Aleppo in a written statement sent to Reuters by an official from the same alliance.

“We will not let anyone use the excuse of fighting Daesh to advance and attempt to draw near to the defences of the allies forces,” he said.

The alliance fighting in support of Assad includes the Lebanese group Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

On Wednesday, Erdogan emphasised that Turkey’s operations in Syria were not intended to stretch to the city of Aleppo.

“Let’s make a joint fight against terrorist organisations. But Aleppo belongs to the people of Aleppo, we must explain this … making calculations over Aleppo would not be right,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

Turkey’s incursion into Syria, launched two months ago to drive IS from its border and prevent Kurdish militia fighters gaining ground in their wake, has complicated an already messy battlefield in northern Syria.

As the Turkish-backed rebels push south towards al-Bab, an IS-held town 35km northeast of Aleppo, they face confrontation with both Kurdish and pro-Assad forces, whose frontlines lie close by.

The Syrian military could not immediately be reached for comment, but it said last week that the presence of Turkish troops on Syrian soil was a “dangerous escalation and flagrant breach of Syria’s sovereignty”.

It warned it would bring down any Turkish warplanes entering Syrian air space.

Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield” two months ago, sending tanks and warplanes into Syria in support of the largely Turkmen and Arab rebels.

Erdogan has also said the operation will continue to al-Bab, which the Kurdish YPG militia is also seeking to control.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-says-kurdish-militias-should-not-take-part-raqqa-opp-clashes-continue-1869500414.